My youngest daughter looked at me on Thursday lunchtime and said: “I’ve never seen you cry before Dad.”
I was reading one of the papers at the time, one of the many pages about the day before’s service. I was surprised at what she said. “Are you sure?” I asked. She insisted she was right.
I’ve cried time and time again over Hillsborough, something I’m not ashamed to admit. But most of the time there’s an instinctive feeling that the tears have to be hidden. Dig your fingernails into the palms of your hand, bite your bottom lip, try to turn your thoughts to something else – anything but let the tears roll down.
That instinct seems stronger in front of your own children. You’re there to protect them from the monsters under the bed and the bullies at school, to tell them everything’s okay even if it isn’t; you can’t really cry in front of them. So you wait until they aren’t there, until you’re on your own.
But this time, sitting at the table with her, the tears had rolled down my face and my voice was breaking up as I was speaking to her.
“It’s okay dad! I don’t mind you crying. I know why you’re crying.”
And she did know.
Young as she is, she’s been taught all her life about what happened in 1989. She’s always had the “PG” version, never the version the adults hear. She’s too young yet for that, for the version that consists of horrors so bad that no film censor would ever pass them. But she knows the basic premise of why we are so sad, and so angry, about what they did to our people in Sheffield.
For as long as I can remember my keys have been held on a “Justice for the 96” keyring. She often sees it and asks about it. She’ll often ask a question, before asking similar questions time and time again over a period of time, and every time she asks, she’ll understand a little more.
My generation asked our elders about the great days of Bill Shankly, and we got told about his witty and inspirational comments and the way he changed the club so fundamentally.
Now my generation are the elders, we get to tell them not only about Shanks but about Bob Paisley and his league and European successes. We get to tell them about Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish.
With Fagan we talk about his years of service to the club and his treble success in 1984. But at the same time we have to mention what happened in Brussels in 1985.
With Kenny we can talk for hours; he was our Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard rolled into one as a player, and he took that even further as our manager. But then we have to talk about how his reign at Anfield ended. What he’d done, without once complaining, in the aftermath of Hillsborough, and how it left him so broken-hearted.
And of course that means we have to talk about what this big word “Hillsborough” means.
When she was younger, I just told her that some naughty men hadn’t done their jobs properly, and that meant 96 people died.
I had to try and put that number into context. More than all the children in Reception, Year One and Year Two. More than all the children in the infants in other words. That’s how many died.
As the years went on she’d ask if these naughty men had got into any trouble: “Did they go to jail?” she’d ask.
“No,” I told her.
“Why not, did they not catch them?”
“Well,” I said…
Some questions just can’t be answered. And “Why?” is the main one.
So, she still doesn’t know “Why” because I still can’t tell her “Why”. Because, with children, there’s always another “Why” to follow the last one until you can finally answer one of those questions with an answer that makes sense to them.
There is no answer that makes ultimate sense when it comes to Hillsborough. And that’s what makes it so hard to take.
But this past couple of weeks I’ve seen more coverage of the disaster, the cover-ups, the injustice, the lies, the suffering and the horrors than I’ve seen since 1989.
And it’s actually started to have an effect on people who up until this year didn’t know much at all about the Hiilsborough truth. Some hadn’t heard enough about it to be too bothered about it – until this year. Others have found themselves ashamed after believing the lies all this time. Lies that stuck like mud 20 years ago when a conservative MP threw them on behalf of South Yorkshire Police, aided and abetted by Kelvin McKenzie of The Sun.
Fans of clubs like Celtic and Everton, to name just two, have always known and understood the truth about Hillsborough. The scarves that stretched from Goodison to Anfield in 1989 and Celtic’s never-to-be-forgotten gesture that got us back playing again in 1989 told us they understood. The vast majority of Everton fans put hostilities aside when it comes to Hillsborough, they join us in our boycott of The Sun. It was no surprise to see Celtic fans were at the service in force, accompanied by the banner that they made to show their support for us, a banner that makes regular appearances at their own games.
Individual fans of other clubs have always shown their support. Decent people who’ve had the chance to read up on what happened have sent their own messages of sympathy every year. Visit the Hillsborough memorial at any time of the year and you’re guaranteed to see a tribute left there by someone who supports another club somewhere in the world.
Whether it’s the majority of a club’s fans or just a few individuals, their kind and generous thoughts and deeds are appreciated more than we can really say.
But this year has seen new people join the calls for justice. People have been literally shocked at what they’ve read.
I’ve not read, watched or listened to all of the coverage yet. I can’t. But I will. One bit at a time.
The tears my daughter saw came after I’d been reading the words of Liverpool’s mayor. Reading the words again in the paper the following day was the point where I could no longer hold the tears back.
I’d held the tears back as he said them at the service. I’d seen a photo on the official site that morning, a photo of one of the victims, a victim I knew, a victim who’d been the same age as me, worked where I worked and who never got to get married and have kids, like I did. I’d not seen his face for a long time, not since the papers of the time.
And then the mayor spoke at Anfield about his own life, how lucky he was to have had his three children, to have a life that was so good to him, when certainly the younger of those victims never got that chance.
My daughter was with me at the service as he said it. But she was standing on her seat, facing the other way; she couldn’t see my eyes welling up. She probably didn’t realise why I held her so tightly, probably thought I was just making sure she didn’t fall.
By the time we got home from the service my emotions were everywhere. I was angry about some of the aspects of the service, moved by many more aspects of it. We saw a bit of the news coverage of the service. Then we put the Jimmy McGovern docu-drama “Hillsborough” on. She saw a bit of it, sat upright transfixed watching it, well past her bedtime. She fell asleep watching it, worn out, but she’d seen the part that deals with the disaster itself.
She learned more about Hillsborough in 24 hours than she’d learned all her life until that day.
And she’s not the only one.
People have opened their eyes.
One way or another we’ll get those answers.
We’ll get those victims and those survivors their justice.